Does a Knuckleball Really Flutter?

I’m a little bit of a nut when it comes to physics and sports. I get intrigued by all the different TV shows that show “how things work” and slow motion photography in a way that statistical analysis can never really suck me in…. until now.

We here at Knuckleballs have a special spot in our hearts for our namesake (might be why we picked the name in the first place). And recently, the folk over at Baseball Prospectus have put up a physical analysis of the trajectory of a knuckleball pitch.. I think that this counts as a double link since they were linking Mr. Nathan as a guest author. But regardless of how many layers of recommendation you have to go through, it’s really worth giving it a read.

Baseball ProGUESTus

The Knuckleball Mystique: Using PITCHf/x to Distinguish Perception from Reality

JC’s Twinsfest Weekend

UPDATE: Say what you want about Drew Butera’s hitting ability, but the guy has personality and if nothing else, he’ll have a future in media. Click here for Butera’s “inside look” at Twinsfest.

It was an eventful weekend in the Twin Cities and more than anything else, I feel like I need a nap. Then again, I also know that if I don’t post something about my trip to Twinsfest now, there’s a good chance it won’t get done at all so I’ll post and THEN get my beauty sleep.

I arrived at my hotel Friday in plenty of time to get cleaned up and head to Oakdale for the 4th Annual Last Hot Stove Banquet. It was the first opportunity I’ve had to attend this event and I had a great time. It’s a relaxing, informal, event but the organizers do a good job of providing an interesting and entertaining program. Former Twins pitcher Scott Erickson was one of the speakers and I thought he did a nice job both with his remarks and with fielding questions from the crowd.

My favorite part of the program, however, was when Twins President Dave St. Peter and St. Paul Saints co-owner Mike Veeck were joined on a Q&A panel by former Red Sox pitcher Dana Keicker and the StarTribune’s Howard Sinker. All four did a great job of fielding questions with relative candor, as well as a healthy dose of humor. The banquet definitely got the weekend off on a good foot.

Saturday also started out well, with my fellow Knuckleballers KL and CapitalBabs joining me for breakfast before I headed for the Metrodome. I particularly appreciated Babs’ hubby joining us, to keep the gender balance even.

I didn’t arrive at the Dome until close to 11:00 am, but since I really wasn’t concerned about jumping through the hoops necessary to get one of the “premium” autographs, there was no need to get there early. I found Seth Stohs at the 1500ESPN Radio set and after a brief visit, I was headed to the main floor.

This trip, my autograph collecting was primarily focused on the minor leaguers. It was great having a copy of Seth’s Prospect Handbook along, allowing me to have a number of those young players sign the page on which their information is printed.

I did get one other autograph. Jim “Mudcat” Grant was signing copies of his book, The Black Aces, and I happily purchased a copy of the book and got him to add a signed inscription. Grant was joined at the booth by four “Black Aces”, J.R. Richard, Dave Steward, Doc Gooden and Ferguson Jenkins. Seeing those five pitchers together certainly brought back a lot of great memories for me and was perhaps the highlight of my day at Twinsfest.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures this trip, but I did put a few in to a slideshow to share here:

The night was capped off at the Old Chicago restaurant in Roseville where what seemed like every Twins blogger and most of the people who read their blogs gathered for a bit of socialization. It was great to see everyone, even if I was so intimidated by the talent assembled there that I pretty much hid in the corner most of the night. My thanks to everyone who found me and stopped by to say “hi”.  It really was a pleasure meeting and spending some time talking to everyone.

All in all, it was a terrific weekend to kind of “kick off” the 2012 Twins season. Pitchers and catchers report in just under three weeks, so it really is getting close to baseball season, despite what all the snow along the highway on my drive home would indicate. I can’t wait.

– JC

Congrats, Tom Kelly, the Last Twin to Wear #10

No Twins player will wear this number again

The Twins wrapped up the annual Diamond Awards banquet Thursday night with a very special award… announcing in front of the 500 or so attendees, a FSN television audience, those of us watching online, and one very surprised former manager that the organization would be honoring Tom Kelly by retiring his #10 in a ceremony this September 8.

Kelly had just finished introducing retired radio broadcaster John Gordon, recipient of the Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award, and was getting ready to return to his seat. Emcee Dick Bremer kept Kelly on the podium, however, and brought club president Dave St. Peter up to the microphone. St. Peter then proceeded to bestow the team’s greatest honor on Kelly, announcing that no Twin will ever again wear his number 10.

Standing behind St. Peter, TK was clearly overcome with emotion as the words sank in. Kelly was so emotionally overwhelmed that he simply stepped down from the podium and returned to his seat without a word, but his face and body language spoke volumes.

Kelly managed the only two World Series championship teams in Twins history, in 1987 and 1991, and even after his retirement from the field has remained a constant fixture in the organization. Visitors to the Twins spring training complex in Ft. Myers may not see much of Kelly if they only show up to watch the Major Leaguers play their afternoon games, but anyone who gets there early enough to patrol the practice fields in the mornings will have no trouble spotting him.

Tom Kelly remains a fixture on the practice fields

You may see him running the Big Leaguers through infield drills or, his particular specialty, working with the club’s first basemen. But you’re just as likely to find him working with the youngest of the club’s minor leaguers… doing what he does best, instilling the fundamentals of baseball in the young minds and bodies of future Minnesota Twins.

Tom Kelly made his name as the skipper of the championship teams he managed for the Twins, but he’s continued to leave his mark on the Twins organization long after he left the Big League dugout.

In my mind, that’s what makes this honor not only appropriate, but long overdue. Congratulations, Tom Kelly!

– JC

 

TWINSFEST!

So Twinsfest starts tomorrow.. you can still get tickets if you haven’t indulged yourself yet. They have changed a few things up this year so reading the materials they provide is a good plan.  Here’s the email then sent me yesterday:

 
Twins
 

 
January 25, 2012 – TwinsFest weekend is upon us and we’re extremely excited to see you back at the H.H.H. Metrodome. We’re looking forward to a fun-filled weekend with all of our favorite players, coaches and especially you, the fans. As you prepare for TwinsFest, please take note of the following new items:

NEW Random Draw Autograph Sessions

In response to fan requests to provide an equal opportunity for fans to secure an autograph at the highest demand stations, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau’s TwinsFest autograph lines will operate under a random draw system. Running to an autograph line, holding spots and standing for long periods of time will no longer be necessary.

All fans must participate in this process for the chance to secure an autograph at these designated sessions; no exceptions. If you’re seeking an autograph from Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau, please familiarize yourself with the autograph station rules byclicking here.

Jack Morris Limited Edition Baseball Booth
Jack Morris has signed 1,000 baseballs with his name and the notation, “1991 WS Game 7″ on the sweetspot. On the side of the ball, Jack has handwritten a special inscription. More info » 

Special Social Media Opportunities
Stay tuned to the Twins Twitter account ( @Twins) for unique opportunities throughout the weekend.

For tickets or more information, please visit twinsbaseball.com/twinsfest. We’ll see you this weekend!

I hear we have several attendees this year who don’t usually come up – including JC! Maybe you will see him if you stop by! Things to remember, even though they are working to solve the line issues, you still need to bring some cash along once you get there if you want to participate in a lot of the fun stuff. Hope you have a GREAT weekend!

Gloom, Despair and Agony

The Hee Haw Gang (Photo: AP)

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Most of you are too young to remember this little ditty from Roy Clark and Buck Owens from the old “Hee Haw” TV show, but it sure describes much of the reaction around Twinsville to the news that the Tigers had signed Prince Fielder on Tuesday.

I guess it’s understandable, to a degree. It was just a week ago that news of Victor Martinez’s ACL injury gave us all a glimmer of hope that the team that pretty much lapped the rest of the AL Central Division in 2011 might fall back to the pack a bit. Now, just like that, they push themselves out further in to the frontrunner role. If the Twins were 32 games worse than Detroit last year, without Fielder, just how much deeper is that hole likely to be this season?

I’m just not sure it’s worth quite the level of gloom, despair and agony I’ve been reading and hearing. What I am sure of is that this signing doesn’t warrant additional criticism of the Twins more conservative approach to building their 2012 roster. In fact, if anything, it might just be evidence that the Twins’ philosophy will turn out to be the right one, as much as many of us (myself, chief among that group) don’t want to admit it.

My initial reaction to the news of Fielder’s signing with Detroit was something along the lines of, “they must be out of their minds over there!” However, I held off on posting that reaction because, frankly, my initial reactions to things frequently turn out to be wrong and I thought if I waited a bit, maybe I would come to see what the Tigers saw and understand how smart this was. That hasn’t happened. In fact, from what I’ve read of most national baseball writers’ reactions, it appears my initial reaction is pretty much in sync with the “experts.” Of course, that doesn’t necessarily make us right.

But just for kicks and giggles (and perhaps to lessen the degree of gloom, despair and agony around here), let’s try to list exactly what this means for the Tigers and for the Twins in the short term and long term.

  • Immediately, it means the Tigers have replaced Victor Martinez in their batting order with a potentially powerful bat. How many more wins that equates to over and above what they would have had with Martinez is at least questionable. They were clearly the best offensive team in the Division already.
  • They have to find places for everyone to play, since the AL does not allow several DHs at a time. This means Detroit could field a defensive lineup in which Delmon Young is perhaps only the fifth worst defensive player on the field. If he’s still in left field when Victor Martinez returns, he may be among the Tigers BEST defenders. Think about that for a moment.
  • When Justin Verlander is pitching, defense doesn’t really matter. But the Tigers are likely going to have to win a lot of 9-7 games when the other 4/5 of the rotation takes the mound.
  • 82-year-old Tigers owner Mike Illitch is clearly willing to mortgage his team’s future… a future he may or may not be around to enjoy anyway… to buy a championship now. That probably means he’s going to be willing to spend even more money in July, if that’s what it takes to win the Division.
  • So, short term, signing Fielder makes the Tigers pretty much the same favorite to win the Division that they were without him and, long term, it could mean the team is stuck with a rapidly aging former star with detiorating skills that they’re paying $23 million a year to, whether he plays or not.

For the Twins, it probably means:

  • They were right not to spend wildly to try to close a 32 game gap with the a team owned by a desperate old man willing to spend like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
  • Before the Tigers signed Fielder, it was going to take all the stars aligning right for the Twins to compete… meaning everyone healthy and productive and a much improved defense. If that happens, there’s still a similar chance that the Twins will be within range of the Tigers, even with Fielder in their lineup. I just don’t see the Tigers winning many more games… they’ll just win by an extra run or two.
  • The Twins will have flexibility in July. If they’re in the race, they have money to spend on exactly the positions they need at the time. If they’re out of the race, they can sell off parts that they won’t be counting on in 2013 and beyond anyway.
  • Long term, the Twins have to like this deal. Any signing that virtually assures that your competition will eventually be flushing $20+ million a year down a rabbit hole is a good signing. That’s money that could have been spent for younger talent that you’d have to be facing for years to come.

Seriously, those of you who think the Twins are nuts to commit $23 million a year to Joe Mauer, leaving a measly $80 million or so to fill out the rest of the roster, just imagine if the Twins made that deal on top of paying two other players north of $20 million a year. The Tigers have done just that. They’ve got over $60 million in salary going to three players for at least the next three seasons.

Maybe Detroit’s broadcast media rights will be skyrocketing like the Rangers, Angels, and seamingly everyone else’s (except the Twins, naturally) looks to be or maybe their owner really just doesn’t give a damn about money at this point in his life.

All I know for sure is that as much as I may disagree with the Twins front office on various philosophical issues (and I continue to do so), I’m absolutely certain at this point that they are not collectively the dumbest front office in baseball. We have a new leader in the clubhouse in that contest.

– JC

Saints Sneak Peek

So this year will be the Minnesota Saints 20th season.. they’ll be announcing a new logo for the season later today but here’s your sneak peek:

 

The Saints have a lot going on this offseason. They are part of St. Paul’s request to the state legislature for building funds for a new stadium in lowertown…  To be honest, I really don’t know how I feel about that because so much of the identity they have in my mind is wrapped up in their midway location and there are a lot of pros & cons for building a new park for a minor league team – not the least among them is timing. However, if YOU are interested in learning more from the team, they will be hosting a live chat on the facebook St. Paul Saints page from 4-5 pm.

Last but certainly not least is the best Hot Stove League Banquet I’ve ever attended – and it’s going on this Friday. It’s used as a fundraiser for the St. Paul little league although I’m sure that there will be a lot of Saints & Twins baseball discussion. I encourage you to check it out.

 

 

Sunday Morning Comic Relief

This appealed due to recent conversations about the roles of traditional sports reporting and sports blogs…  Those conflicts are going to exist for a bit yet but I wonder how long it will take for the line between them to be so blurred as to be indistinguishable.

 

A Saturday in Winter

I know I shouldn’t complain about getting half a foot of snow yesterday here in Cedar Rapids, given that we’ve had remarkably moderate weather this winter. But I’ve never let the fact that I shouldn’t complain about something keep me from doing exactly that, so yeah… I’m complaining about the weather. I just really have come to dislike winter weather.

It does, however, force me to think about how we’re getting closer to spring every day and that means we’re getting closer to baseball.

I really had nothing of any significance to accomplish this weekend, except to get a haircut. For follically challenged men like myself, that task chews up all of about five minutes at the local Cost Cutters, so I still had plenty of time on my hands to kill on this cold, white Saturday.

Einstein

One thing I am doing this weekend, however, is dog-sitting for my son and his wife. This, so far, amounts primarily to watching TV at their home instead of mine. Yes, of course it also involves trying to remember to feed their dog, Einstein, a couple of times a day and letting him outside to deal with nature’s calls.

“Einey” regarded me a bit suspiciously when I first arrived, but within a few minutes, he apparently decided I wasn’t much of a threat, because he found his way to my lap. This did make it a challenge to draft this post, but it turns out he’s plenty happy to simply lay next to me and share the couch.

This is the first time I’ve been trusted to watch Einstein and my goal is to just not screw it up, on the off chance that it turns out this is some kind of test to see if I’m trustworthy enough to be a grandpa at some point.

On the way over to Einstein’s house, I did drive past Veterans Memorial Stadium, the summer home of our Cedar Rapids Kernels, and took a few pictures.

I’ll share some of them here, but I actually took them to send to Craig Wieczorkiewicz , of The Midwest League Traveler blog.  He sent out a Tweet a while back asking for winter pictures of Midwest League stadiums, so I thought today would be a good day to snap a couple and send them to him.

Craig visited all 16 MWL ballparks last season and blogged about it at mwltraveler.com. He’s also writing a book about the experience. It’s a great idea and I’m quite jealous that I didn’t think of it first.

In any event, if you’re interested in minor league baseball at all, you should check out the blog and read back through his posts about his travels last summer. He’s also well worth a “follow” @MWLtraveler on Twitter.

I can’t really decide for myself whether these pictures are depressing, with all the snow on the ballpark, or if they offer a hopeful reminder that there WILL be baseball again, soon. I’ll let you decide that question for yourselves.

– JC

This time of year, there apparently isn't a need to rush to get the parking lot at Veterans Stadium plowed out after several inches of snowfall.

A bit closer look at the home of the Kernels from across the parking lot

I had hoped someone would be in the Kernels office so I could pick up a couple books of tickets for this season and maybe get some decent interior pictures, but no luck. The best I could do was to get a few shots through the external gate.

Yes, this is an exterior picture of Veterans Memorial Stadium, not an excerpt from the movie "Patton"

The tank is actually a part of the Veterans Memorial that gives Veterans Memorial Stadium its name

So long Vets Stadium... I'll be back before you know it.

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Minor Leaguers: Dreaming Against the Odds

Last week, I posted my choices for the Top 10 Twins Minor League Prospects. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the organization’s minor leaguers, by any means, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a big fan of minor league baseball. I am.

I live in an Iowa community (Cedar Rapids) that is home to a minor league team… the Kernels… that is the Midwest League affiliate of the Angels. The Midwest League, for those not familiar with it, is a “Low Class A” league, which means that most of the players are in the early stages of their professional careers. You see a lot of 19-23 year olds who physically don’t look a whole lot different than what you might see playing ball on college and even high school ballfields around the country.

Everyone understands that the odds are stacked against these kids. A select few will ever get so much as a cup of coffee in the Big Leagues and fewer still will have substantial Major League careers. But the dreams are still there. Why? Because it does happen… guys do make it to the top. It’s not just the high draft picks and big-bonus international signings, either. Players that are playing in Cedar Rapids and Clinton and Burlington and Beloit for barely enough money to pay for pizza once or twice a week do get their chances to grab the brass ring.

I was reminded of this earlier in the week when I read this news item from the Kernels’ web site. When the Angels open their Spring Training camp in Tempe AZ, all of the media and most of the fans will be focused on newcomer Albert Pujols, but I’ll be following a few other guys more closely.

Mike Trout

Of the 60 players invited to the Angels Big League camp, 34 of them are former Cedar Rapids Kernels and while I can’t say I remember a lot about each and every one of them, I do attend enough games that I can say with certainty that I’ve watched all of them play ball here. Some, like Ervin Santana, have already had pretty fair MLB careers, some have some lofty expectations (that would be you, Mike Trout) attached to them, but many others are anxiously looking forward to an opportunity to make the most of this shot to impress the Angels’ brass and beat the long odds they faced when they were Kernels.

All of this got me wondering if the Twins had a similar number of former Beloit Snappers showing up in Ft. Myers when camp opens there. After all, I make a pretty significant effort to see as many games as I can when the Snappers come to Cedar Rapids, so I’m likely to have seen almost all of whatever group of Snapper alums there will be in the Twins camp.

It certainly would have been nice if whoever posts the news to the Snappers’ website had done this work for me like Andrew Pantini did on the Kernels’ site, but alas, such was not the case. So I did a little research on my own. In doing so, I was reminded that through 2004, the Twins’ MWL affiliate was the Quad Cities River Bandits.

In any event, with the addition of Joel Zumaya, the Twins will have 65 players in the Major League camp to start Spring Training and it turns out that 24 of those players spent time with either Quad Cities or Beloit as they worked their ways up the Twins organizational ladder.

Liam Hendriks

The group includes the following former River Bandits (with year in parens): Justin Morneau (2001), Joe Mauer (2002), Scott Baker (2003), Nick Blackburn (2003-04), Glen Perkins (2004), Denard Span (2004); and these former Snappers: Trevor Plouffe (2005), Anthony Swarzak (2005), Luke Hughes (2005), Kyle Waldrop (2005-06), Brian Duensing (2006), Joe Benson (2006-08), Chris Parmelee (2006-08), Alex Burnett (2007), Jeff Manship (2007), Tyler Robertson (2007), Danny Valencia (2007), Brian Dinkelman (2007), Rene Tosoni (2007), Danny Lehmann (2008), Ben Revere (2008). Liam Hendriks (2009-10), Brian Dozier (2010), and Oswaldo Arcia (2011).

I did see an awful lot of one additional current Twin during his time in the Midwest League. Alexi Casilla spent parts of 2004 and 2005 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels prior to the Twins swapping JC Romero to the Angels for Lexi. As a matter of fact, an additional 16 players that will be in the Twins Major League camp spent time riding the buses from one MWL stadium to another while playing for other organizations.

Will all of the prospects that will start Spring Training sharing a Big League clubhouse with Joe Mauer and Carl Pavano become significant contributors to the Twins this year (or ever, for that matter)? Of course not. But they each have reached a very important milestone… an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

Adrian Salcedo

Of course, not all of the best and brightest Snappers of recent years will be in the Big League camp. Anyone making a trip to Ft. Myers will have to slip over to the minor league fields to check out Aaron Hicks (2009-10), Angel Morales (2009-10), James Beresford (2009-10), Danny Rams (2009-10), BJ Hermsen (2010-11) and Adrian Salcedo (2011) .

But 2012 could shape up to be a banner year for the Snappers as a number of the organization’s top prospects could suit up for Beloit at some point this season, including Eddie Rosario, Levi Michael, Travis Harrison and the Twins’ consensus top prospect Miguel Sano.

The prospect of watching these players, as well as the latest crop of Angels prospects that will be suiting up for our local Kernels, has me just as anxious for the Midwest League season to get started as I am to see the Big Leaguers take the field.

No, it isn’t enough to keep me warm while I deal with temperatures that are preceded by minus signs, but at least it’s something to look forward to.

– JC

P.S. If I’ve sparked your interest or curiosity about the Twins minor leaguers, if you’re planning on making the trip to Ft. Myers for Spring Training, if you are thinking about a road trip to check out one of the Twins’ minor league affiliates in action this season, or if you just like to know more than your friends about these guys, you REALLY need to order Seth Stohs’ Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook for 2012. It’s full of information about over 150 Twins prospects, plus several other feature articles… and it’s available for order now! Click here and order yours today.

T-Minus 30 Days And Counting

Yes, we are now under a month before Twins pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers for Spring Training. It won’t be long now, gang, before we’re seeing pictures of our guys in uniforms on real baseball diamonds and we’re reading media reports straight from their complex on Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan seems to be pretty much done with his off-season shopping. Whether he SHOULD be done with his shopping is another question entirely and I tend to agree with John Bonnes’ take, which he posted over at his TwinsGeek blog. With so many serviceable and quite affordable veterans still on the market, the Twins are flat out of their minds if they don’t take advantage of the depressed marketplace to pick up some more help.

Todd Coffey and other similar relief arms have to be starting to get pretty anxious about where they’re going to be pitching in 2012. Joel Zumaya may be a low risk-high reward signing, but you certainly can not be serious about counting on him to throw 50 Major League innings this season.

And then there’s Justin Morneau. As TwinsGeek points out, there’s nothing warm and fuzzy feeling about Doc’s comments to the media lately. He certainly doesn’t sound like a guy who’s feeling top of the world and ready to hit the field. I’m not sure a guy like Derrek Lee would be desperate enough to sign on to be the Twins’ fallback option in the event Morneau can’t answer the bell, but there are plenty of other players out there who aren’t going to have many other options.

There’s no rush. The remaining players on the market are largely interchangeable and the prices are only going to go down over the next 3-4 weeks. This is what the Twins are supposed to be good at… scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel and coming up with something worthwhile. Orlando Hudson was barely signed in time to show up for the first workouts of Spring Training a couple of years ago and that turned out pretty well. They don’t need a critical starting infielder this time, just a couple of reliable spare parts.

On the other hand, if the Twins really want to add one more front line player, not many of us would complain. One rumor that’s gotten a little traction has involved starting pitcher Roy Oswalt. Oswalt was never on my list of preferred targets for the Twins this off-season, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if they could sign the guy.

Roy Oswalt (Photo: AP)

He and his agent had reportedly been looking for a multi-year deal for more than $10 million per year after the Phillies bought out his option rather than pay him $16 million for 2012. He had some back problems which certainly would be considered a red-flag, but word is he’s been considering one-year offers lately, with the hope of re-establishing his value and taking another run at a bigger contract next off-season.

The thing is, I really just can’t figure out what the market for Oswalt is. I get the feeling that he’s one of those second-tier pitchers that had to wait until the top-tier guys landed before he would see what the true level of interest in him would be. The problem is, those top-tier guys still haven’t all landed. Edwin Jackson is still out there.

But now that the Rangers have signed Yu Darvish for megabucks, that’s probably one less team that will be willing to throw $8-10 million at Oswalt.

We do know that Oswalt is nearing the end of his career, so you have to figure he wants to play for a legitimate contender if all things are equal. That wouldn’t seem to bode well for the Twins, but speculation seems to be that Terry Ryan might be willing to take a walk up the street to ask Jim Pohlad for approval to exceed that $100 million payroll limit in order to lure Oswalt to Minnesota by offering a multi-year deal.

I honestly think it’s a long shot, but it gives us something to chatter about anyway.

Over the past few years, the final month before Spring Training starts has seen a lot of usable veteran free agents scrambling for jobs and there are bargains to be had out there. Most years, the Twins would be sifting through that bargain bin and picking up a couple of useful parts.

This season should be no exception.

After all, we have another month to kill before we get to actually see baseball. We need something more to talk about!

– JC